While researching what to do in Tokyo, we decided to take one trip out of the city to experience a bit of nature and what life is like in Japan outside of the big city. Hakone seemed to be the perfect fit for a day trip from Tokyo as it is easily accessible by train from Tokyo, there is plenty to see and do and there is the added bonus that Hakone is one of the perfect viewing spots for the majestic Mount Fuji (on a clear day). Unfortunately it was completely overcast the day we went to Hakone and we didn’t see Mount Fuji, but we still had a lot of fun exploring the area and now we have a good reason to return to Hakone one day.
Another reason we were attracted to Hakone as a day trip is the Hakone Round Course. The Hakone Round Course is a popular way of visiting all the sights in Hakone that use 5 modes of transport (train, funicular, cable car, boat and bus) in a circular tour of the area that starts and ends at the main train station. It was a fun way to explore and we did not get bored. Most visitors to Hakone start the journey on the Hakone Round Course with the train but we did the opposite and started the course in a clockwise direction starting with a bus to the Amazake-Chaya Tea House.
Things to Do:
- Amazake-Chaya Tea House – This tea house has been in operation since the Edo Period (1603-1868) and historically has welcomed travellers making the long journey on foot between Tokyo and Kyoto. I imagine this tea house was a welcome sight for travelers to rest their feet and enjoy a drink of amazake (a non-alcoholic drink made of fermented rice). The friendly woman operating the tea house encouraged us to try this drink as well as the specially made mochi desserts topped with black sesame and sweet soy bean powder.
How to Get There: Walk 40 minutes from Moto Hakone or take the Hakone Tozen bus (Route K) from the Hakone-Yumoto Station bound for Motohakone and exit at the Amazake-Chaya Tea House after about 26 minutes.
- Edo Period Stone Road – Rather than waiting for the next bus from the teahouse to Motohakone, we decided to walk along the old stone road that has been used since the Edo Period by travellers between Tokyo and Kyoto. It was quite the experience imagining walking in the footsteps of samurai as they journeyed through these mountains. It took us between 30 to 40 minutes to walk down from the tea house to the small towns surrounding Lake Ashinoko. We encountered only a few other people on this path which allowed us to really enjoy our nature walk.
How to Get There: A preserved section of the Tokaido Road remains between Moto-Hakone and Hatajuku via the Amazake-Chaya Tea House (75 to 100 minutes).
- Hakone CheckPoint and Ancient Cedar Avenue – The Hakone Checkpoint is a reconstruction of an important checkpoint on the Tokaido Road between Tokyo and Kyoto from the Edo Period. It includes a small museum with access to lookout towers. Ancient Cedar Avenue is part of the ancient highway that is lined with large cedar trees.
How to Get There: Both the Hakone Checkpoint and the Ancient Cedar Avenue are located between the towns of Moto-Hakone and Hakone-machi near the shores of Lake Ashinoko.
- Hakone Shrine – Hakone Shrine is a Shinto shrine that sits on the shores of Lake Ashinoko. The shrine is hidden in the forest but the main red torii gate is directly on the lake in view of sightseeing boats traversing the lake. The torii gate with the lake in the background is an instagram famous view. There is a second shrine higher up the mountain which can be reached via hiking trails or the Hakone Komagatake Ropeway. We didn’t have time to visit the Hakone Shrine on this trip but only saw the red torii gate from the sightseeing boat.
How to Get There: Hakone Shrine is a 5 minute walk from the Moto-Hakone boat pier.
- Sightseeing Boat on Lake Ashinoko – One of the modes of transportation on the Hakone Round Course, this pirate ship sails from Hakone-machi past the red torii gates of the Hakone Shrine to Togendai. A view of Mount Fuji with Lake Ashinoko in the foreground is best seen from Hakone-machi near the sightseeing boat dock.
How to Get There: The Hakone Sightseeing Boat is part of the Hakone Round Course and is included as part of the Hakone Free Pass. The trip takes about 30 minutes and boats leave every 30 to 60 minutes. Another company, Izuhakone, also operates boats on Lake Ashinoko but these boats are not included on the Hakone Free Pass.
- Owakudani and the Hakone Ropeway – Owakudani is the area around an active volcanic zone where you can see sulfuric gases rising and a view of Mount Fuji on a clear day. Owakudani can be reached using the Hakone Ropeway which is part of the Hakone Free Pass. The ropeway can sometimes be closed depending on the volcanic activity in the area and if there are any concerns of poisonous gases. A popular activity is to purchase eggs which have turned black from being cooked in the hot sulfer springs. It is said that eating one of the black eggs will prolong your life by 7 years; however, no more than 2 black eggs should be eaten. The eggs can only be bought in a pack of 5 so we decided to skip this tradition.
How to Get There: Owakudani can be reached by the Hakone Ropeway from either Sounzan or Togendai stations.
- Hakone Gora Park – When we took the ropeway and funicular down from the mountaintop, it was already quite late in the day and we still had to make the trip back to Tokyo by train. So we had the choice of going to the Hakone Gora Park or the Hakone Open Air Museum. As we had just missed the train that would take us closer to the Hakone Open Air Museum, we decided to take a look around the Hakone Gora Park. The park consists of botanical gardens, a landscaped garden and a traditional Japanese tea house. Walking around the traditional Japanese tea houses and their surrounding gardens was the highlight for us.
How to Get There: Gora Park is a 5 minute walk from Gora Station, the last stop on the Hakone-Tozan Railway.
- Hakone Open Air Museum – Although we didn’t have enough time to visit this museum on this trip, the Hakone Open Air Museum will be top of my list for our next trip to Hakone. This museum exhibits a number of sculptures in an outdoor garden space such as the Symphonic Sculpture which is a large tower with stained glass windows. There is also a Picasso exhibit which displays paintings and other pieces by Pablo Picasso.
How to Get There: A short walk from Chokoku No Mori Station which is the second to last stop on the Hakone-Tozan Railway.
Other Activities in Hakone:
- Hakone Hot Springs – Hakone is also known for its many hot springs and hot spring hotels or ryokans, which are traditional Japanese inns with hot spring baths. You can stay overnight at the ryokans or visit using a day pass. Be sure you are familiar with the rules of attending a Japanese bath house.
How to Get to Hakone from Tokyo:
The Hakone Free Pass is a 2 or 3 day pass for exploring Hakone and it includes all modes of transportation on the Hakone Round Course as well as a discounted round trip train ticket from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station. Even though we only went to Hakone for one day, the 2 day Hakone Free Pass was worth it for the savings and convenience. It gave us unlimited use of the Hakone Tozan Railway, Souzan cablecar, Hakone Ropeway, Hakone Sightseeing boats, Hakone Tozan Buses and Odakyu Buses, and Numazu Tozan Tokai Buses between Mishima and Moto-Hakone. It also includes discounted admission to certain attractions. We purchased our Hakone Free Pass from Shinjuku Station the day before our planned trip.
Hakone Round Course:
The Hakone Round Course is a circular course around the Hakone area which uses 5 modes of transportation. The Hakone Round Course:
- Starts and ends in Hakone-Yumoto Station (which can be reached in 90 minutes using the Romancecar line from Tokyo’s Shinjuku station)
- The Hakone Tozan Railway is a train from Hakone-Yumoto Station to Gora Station (30 minutes)
- Hakone Tozan Cablecar is a funicular train from Gora to Sounzan (10 minutes)
- Hakone Ropeway is an elevated cable car from Sounzan to Owakudani to Togendai (30 minutes)
- Hakone Sightseeing Boat is a pirate ship tourist boat that travels between Togendai and Hakone-machi (30 minutes)
- You can travel on foot (or by bus) between Hakone-machi and Moto-Hakone.
- Hakone Tozan Bus (line H or K) can be taken from Moto-Hakone back to the train station in Hakone-Yumoto (35 minutes)
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